Ditch the Clock: How Wilderness Therapy Helps Teens With ADHD

For many teens with ADHD wearing a watch or having a clock in the room can be a huge distraction. While they still need a healthy routine, there are alternatives to being a “slave to the clock.”

In today’s world, most of us are guilty of it: we are all but lost without our watches or phones to constantly check the time. Teens suffering from ADHD can obsess over time: watching the minutes tick slowly away as they sit in class, they forget to focus on the task at hand. Sometimes it is healthier for the teen to step away, to an environment that is not bound to a clock such as Wilderness therapy.

Routine Without Time: Wilderness Therapy Makes It Possible

Wilderness therapy addresses this issue very simply: there are no clocks in nature. It’s the job of the wilderness therapy instructors to maintain the schedule. So, there’s routine without the distracting preoccupation to know the time. Many teens with ADHD spend so much time thinking about what time it is and where they are supposed to be, that they spend too little time directing their attention on the things that really matter—like paying attention in school or listening to instruction. In an attempt to stay on schedule, they actually get very little done. Getting out in nature offers teens a healthy way to refocus and it creates a new way of thinking about time management.

Eliminate The Clock, Create Task-Oriented Teens

That’s not to say it isn’t incredibly difficult to divert from regular patterns. When teens first enter wilderness therapy, one of the things they miss the most is their watch. Many obsess over finding out the specific time of day. But after a while, the time becomes less significant. What begins to matter is getting the important tasks done during the day that are required for survival in the wilderness—finding shelter, starting a fire, making food, etc.

Through this, teens begin to take on a new understanding of time. It’s not 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and so on. In the wilderness, it’s “time to wake up,” and “time for breakfast,” and “time to break down camp and get to the next location before that thunderstorm hits.” Teens with ADHD become task-oriented. This is a huge step in successfully managing their ADHD.

It’s true that you can’t live practically in the world without having a general idea of what time it is. But a constant fixation on the specific time makes it difficult to get anything of worth done. There has to be a healthy balance. When returning home from wilderness therapy, teens need to find a way to navigate between completing their task list and sticking to a schedule. It’s not easy. But, with the skills and coping tools learned in wilderness therapy, teens are better equipped to manage the things that previously caused the greatest distractions—like wearing a watch.